School pledges to boost life skills through volunteering

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Cambridgeshire school develops character education programme based on pledges.

  • Students undertake volunteering and leadership activities to achieve pledges status
  • Buy-in from staff ensures all pupils achieve bronze and silver status by year 11


Pledges play an important role at Swavesey Village College. The secondary school in rural Cambridgeshire has made a pledge to its students that by the time they leave, every one of them will have taken part in volunteering.

The school's leaders believe participating in social action is a valuable learning experience all of its 1,300 pupils should have and can be important in them developing the right character traits for future success.

The volunteering promise is built into a character education programme called Pledges that has been adopted by the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust - which Swavesey is part of - and is built around British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance.

Pledges is an acronym that stands for participation, leadership, excellence, diversity, giving, environment and service. Each of the seven programme pledges has a range of activities and tasks attached to them that pupils strive to achieve. Taking part is the first stage of the programme: pupils are awarded a bronze certificate for completing seven tasks that can range from attending an after-school club to raising money for charity, or volunteering to pick litter during lunchtimes to representing the school at a sport.

Activities for the silver and gold certificates build on the work young people have done for the bronze certificate. For example, for their bronze certificate a pupil may have donated regularly to a food bank, so to achieve a silver status they need to organise donations to a food bank, and to achieve a gold status they must play a leading part in establishing a local scheme.

Georgina Curtis, Swavesey assistant head teacher, says pupils who have achieved gold status have shown they have made a lasting benefit for their peers or the community. She cites the example of a student who worked with the school's canteen staff to reduce single-use plastics, and as a result led to a change in canteen policy and practice.

"With the higher level pledges for the gold certificate, students need to show they understand and can apply what is being taught in class about resilience, respect, reflection, resourcefulness and responsibility," explains Curtis.

"They are going to have to work with adults and be resourceful, and apply that development in their pledges."

Each student is appointed a tutor who uses three meetings each year to monitor their progress through the programme. If a student is struggling to achieve pledges, their tutor is expected to work with the young person and their family to set achievable targets so they gain the certificate.

Student attainment and progress in the programme is monitored through the school's staff performance management systems.

"All staff engage in it," says Curtis, adding that recent revisions to the programme to make it clearer and more consistent have helped with this.

"The improved transparency and structure to the pledges means tutors feel more supported in the work they do around this."

The revamp of the programme has also seen an expansion of the range of activities and tasks covered by the pledges with a view to making them more accessible.

"They were too focused on going on trips or activities abroad, so they didn't sufficiently take into account pupils that couldn't afford that," she adds.

Staff also play a crucial role in linking pledges to what students might go on to do after education.

"It's about creating that understanding with them so they recognise how they will benefit from participating in it in the long run," says Curtis.


All students achieve a bronze status by the end of year 9 and silver status by the end of year 11.

Meanwhile, 30 per cent of Swavesey's year 11 students participate in the National Citizen Service (NCS) in the summer holidays, which once completed achieves a gold status.

Curtis says that in addition to linking pupils into NCS opportunities, the programme helps prepare young people for the challenges of going onto further education, training or work.

"We're a rural community and some pupils may need to get up at 6am and catch multiple buses to get to college - that requires commitment and perseverance."

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